Creative Commons.

So, in summery, then. The SFWA, who are a guild of writers, saw that the annoying-yet-apparently-popular site Scribd was hosting a large number of eBooks of works by its members which are still under copyright.

They compiled a list of offending articles, constructed – by looking at the list – by searching for famous authors – Asimov, as an example – and listing all of those.

Unsurprisingly, this took out some innocent texts, like various lists such as “These authors write good scifi, read them”.one of which was Cory Doctorow’s “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom”, which he released under a Creative Commons Licence and is therefore miffed it’s been shot down, and is kicking up a major fuss about the entire thing.

The problem is that there are two worlds.

In Doctorow’s world, which I share to a large extent, you give away your wares for free, and if people like it they will give you money. Also, they will give you money for better quality versions, like a real book. You make money over the long term because the people who can’t afford to pay lots are balanced out by the people who can, and therefore do.

In the SFWA world, if you give something away for free, you don’t get any money for it. Also, that person won’t need to buy the physical copy, and so you actually lose a sale. This position assumes that any “honour” style payment system is flawed, because most people don’t demonstrate any.

The BoingBoing article is entirely factually correct. It misses out the bit that the takedown list is of thousands, but only three innocent books have been positively identified so far. The major problem is that the DMCA is a blunt instrument, designed so that corporations can get actual pirate material off the net ASAP without faffing around with lawyers. The major downside of this is that it means there isn’t any incentive to be very careful any blanket notices, as there isn’t any legal penalty for doing so. The only way to convince the corporations – which the SFWA count as in this instance – is by making sure that mistakes on the lists result in a PR disaster.

Addendum: As Cory points out in the comments, and as is further explained in something I linked to in the next article, the number of ‘Overenthusiastic’ items on the list is far greater than 3. As Ben points out, lying in the DMCA takedown notice is perjury, although there hasn’t been a complete legal stand for that quite yet.

But the writers – some of whom authorised the SFWA to do this – deserve to make their own decision on the whole “Giving my stuff away for free” issue, and for those who want people to have to buy the books to read the stories – which is 99.9% of them – it is entirely justified for them to want places like Scribd to come down like a ton of bricks on people who blatantly abuse the copyright.

We’ve just got to make sure innocent people don’t get caught in the crossfire.